The Sanctuary

Acknowledgement: This story was written based on a game of the solo journaling TTRPG Sentinel, by Meghan Cross, which helped get me out of a writing rut with some great prompts.

My story begins at the end of the world. It all ended when the bombs fell. Nuclear hellfire rained down upon the land, and the people who survived the first bombs were twisted beyond all recognition by the radioactive fallout. The lucky ones died. The others became something less than human.

My master was smart enough to foresee all this. He was the smartest man alive, after all. That is now almost certainly true, as he is the last. He lives on in cryogenic sleep, to sleep for a hundred years until the planet is once again fit for human life. Until then, there is only me, and whatever lurks outside the sanctuary.

My master was well prepared. He built electric fences around the sanctuary and the nuclear reactor which keeps them buzzing. He also planted the many bushes and trees which form the grand gardens. Every morning I tend to the plants, keeping everything the way the master wanted. His body sleeps at the heart of the mansion at the centre of the sanctuary.

I tend to the grounds of the sanctuary, but my most important role is to keep it safe from the creatures of the outside. Like the beasts outside, I am less than human, but well equipped for my duties. My clockwork cogs and gears spin, driven by a tiny reactor at the core of my being. While I am built in the form of the master, my brass body and geared mechanisms are more powerful than his flesh and blood.

Before the world ended I was merely a project for my master, one of many. But the others are gone now. I alone stand guard, so that when my watch ends my master may live again. It has been fourteen years. It will be many more before the world is safe for him again.

Year 15

The grounds have been breached. Today, as I was trimming the hedge which borders the garden, I noticed that something was out of order. It should not have been so, because just the previous day I had watered them from the sanctuary’s dam, and at that time they were perfectly intact. Two roses had been crudely hacked from their bushes, one tall and one short.

This was not a random act of chance. There is someone or something intelligent enough out there to send me a message. They wish to see me and my master hacked from the earth. They must have come in at night, while I was performing routine maintenance on my own systems.

I cannot allow this to happen again. If they can reach the garden, they need only to breach the mansion to harm the master. I cannot allow this to happen. I must disregard my maintenance protocols and patrol the fences at night. Someone is out there, waiting, and watching. They want me to know they can hurt the master.

Today, when aerating the soil of the picnic lawn, I made a most astounding discovery. Beneath the surface, I detected an anomaly – a small pressure vessel hidden in the soil. After extricating it, I took a closer look.

It was very finely engineered to the kind of microscopic tolerances that only the master could achieve. Indeed, it bore a close resemblance to a part of my own reactor core. By the process of logical deduction, there was a high probability that it came from a reactor similar to mine, from one of the other machines which my master engineered. But its pristine condition did not appear to match this hypothesis.

It could not be more than five years old. But the master had been sleeping for fourteen. Is there someone else out there, another master who has the power of life and death? If so, how do they survive in the degraded world? The master was sure that the world would be unsafe for humans for a hundred years. Could he have been wrong?

No, certainly not. The master was the lifebringer, my own creator. He could not be wrong. I must be mistaken.

I sometimes wonder if I am losing my mind. Alone, without having exchanged communications protocols with another being for years. Outside are only threats, and inside the master sleeps.

Today I saw something that made me question my sanity again. In the shade of the ornamental peach tree, there was a queer shimmering. On closer inspection, I could see another world in it, another with grey skies and yellowing grass. A world much like the one outside the master’s sanctuary. I reached my brass hand toward it and felt no resistance as it travelled straight through. My arm felt strange: cool and damp on the other side, but warm on this side.

This portal did not fit any of my known parameters. But if there was another world on the other side, then this could be the source of the recent intrusions. I tried to grab the sides of it, but could find nothing solid to hold, my hand closing on empty air.

This could threaten my master, and even the sanctuary itself. I resolved to prevent such dangers, and trudged to the work shed where the master, in his great foresight, had left tools for my use. I gathered wood and tools, and set about building a fence around the portal.

The sanctuary was now just a little smaller, with an island of green grass and a single ornamental peach tree surrendered to the encroaching entropy. The portal still shimmered with danger, but I hoped that my fence would hold and protect the master.

For a year, the fence held. I did not see any intruders appear to threaten the sanctuary. The cancerous rot in the middle of the master’s safe place was held at bay. I did not receive any more threatening messages. My dam had held back the tide of entropy.

I began to relax and return my maintenance protocols to optimal; devote more time to maintaining the garden and less to monitoring security. Perhaps those beasts outside had come to respect my master’s sanctuary, or perhaps they devoted their energies elsewhere. They do not matter. All that matters is keeping the master safe and the sanctuary ready for his return.

On the sixteenth year after the world ended, the nuclear reactor which powers the sanctuary failed. Though I examined it closely, fixing it was beyond my expertise. The master’s sleep was maintained through the backup battery, but this would not last forever. I must supplement its stores with energy from my own reactor. This made me tired and irritable, but the master must be maintained. It was my primary purpose.

Perhaps the maker of the pressure vessel I found could fix the sanctuary’s reactor? But to find them I would have to leave here, absconding from my purpose. Such thoughts were mere folly.

On the seventeenth year after the world ended, a great radiation storm came across the sanctuary. The rains of rays fell hard upon my body, taxing the nanomachines which perform my maintenance. But more importantly, they wreaked havoc upon the garden. Though I stood and shielded the roses with my own body, I could not stop the flurry of particles from battering them.

The radiation warped and twisted the plants beyond recognition. Much like the beasts who dwell outside these walls, some died, and others were transformed into such grotesqueries that it was a kindness to pull them from the ground and burn them.

I decided to try and grow new flowers.

On the eighteenth year after the world ended, my seedlings sprouted. Though they did not yet match the master’s original garden, the bushes I planted took to the soil and offered great white blooms. As the seed stores offered no roses, I hoped the daisies were to the masters liking. It felt good to grow a new thing, rather than merely maintaining the work of the master. I shall have to be careful not to become too prideful.

Year 19

Today, on my circuit of the sanctuary fence, I discovered a small brass box. It must have been left there by someone or something from outside the sanctuary, as it was not present on yesterday’s patrol. Such a breach of defences highlights the failure of the sanctuary’s reactor.

The box, however, was locked with some kind of fluid receptacle required to obtain access. It nagged me for weeks as I carried the box. Somebody wanted me to have this, but locked it so I could not open it. Perhaps this was some kind of test.

I tried dam water, both filtered and unfiltered. I tried irradiated reactor coolant. I unfroze one of the master’s nutrient shakes and tried a little of that in the fluid receptacle. I tried pollen from one of my daisies mixed into a drop of water. But the lock would not budge.

What was the purpose of such a recalcitrant lock? And what could be inside the box? I had to know. Perhaps there was another like me out there beyond the sanctuary, and the lock would only open to my internal fluid?

I searched the shed for a cutting implement and very slowly, very deliberately placed it below my arm. I lined it up perfectly with the thin shielding on my wrist joint and took a deep breath. Perhaps the power drain of supporting the sanctuary battery was muddling my cognitive processes, but I had to know what was in the box. I carefully sliced through my wrist, just deep enough to nick the hydraulic fluid capillary. It dripped black and oozing from beneath my brass skin.

A drip landed in the box’s fluid receptacle. It beeped for an instant, and then stayed closed. Drat.

I sealed my wound with fast setting silica gel and welded a fresh plate across it. The box would stay closed for now.

I am always wary after a harsh winter. When the water freezes and the plants outside the sanctuary blacken and die from the chill, the beasts become desperate. Desperate enough to assault the sanctuary.

A pack of them came upon the sanctuary, moving like the bastard brothers of wolves with teeth sharp and bared. After their leader threw himself onto the fence and found it was no longer electrified, they fell upon the sanctuary like a stream of claws and gnashing teeth.

They tore through the outer reaches of the garden, on a direct course for the dam. If they were to pollute the sanctuary’s only source of fresh water, the gardens would wither and die.

So I did what was needed. I do not enjoy fighting, though my body is well formed for it. But I could not allow the sanctuary to be defiled.

I stood alone against the pack of rabid beasts, my master’s servant against a pack of mangy dogs. They stood no chance. My crisp brass plating withstood any attempts they made to piece it with flesh and bone. I tore the leader’s head clean from his body with my hydraulic strength. After I felled the second with a single punch, the pack broke and fled.

Most will die in the freezing wastes. But some will survive, remember, and come for revenge.

They would not return this year. The freezing winds off the wastes gradually calmed into spring – where my daisies were more beautiful than ever – and summer. Repairing the damage took much of my effort and left the shed’s supplies dwindling. But the sanctuary must be maintained as the master required it.

The outer fence of the sanctuary stood bedraggled and would not serve as much of a barrier. Knowledge of its de-energising would spread quickly among the beasts. I had not the supplies to spend rebuilding it completely, but at year-end I contemplated: was the greater threat through the portal or to the outside? I had a solid, well built fence which had not been tested since I built it around the shimmering portal. Could it be better used here against real beasts than wasted against phantoms from beyond?

The threat of the beasts from outside the sanctuary seemed more severe than the unknown cancer of the portal. After all, I had never seen anything emerge from the shimmering door. It was unnerving, but not dangerous, I reasoned.

So as summer passed into autumn, I used the wood panels which had encircled the door to another world to painstakingly reassemble the barrier which the beasts had torn down. The portal now stood alone, an island of strangeness in the placid sanctuary.

The external boundaries of the sanctuary were now inviolate, but this intrusion still stood in my midst.

Year 21

With the sanctuary safe and secure, my mind wandered. I had now been alone – except for the master, of course – for a decade. I wistfully remembered how it was to share the sanctuary with a companion, with Xenia. That was the name I gave her, anyway, patterned after her serial number. She was more practical, without the patience for my flights of fancy.

She always knew just how much water and sunlight to give the flowers in the garden. It was so much easier to be able to share the duties of the sanctuary, and to have someone to share the moments with. Once, she cut the picnic lawn several millimetres too short, and had to wait all day until it reached the master’s preferred level! Oh, how we joked about her going mad with power.

I missed her so much.

The portal gnawed at the back of my mind. This opening, right in the middle of the sanctuary, which absolutely anything could come through. It could not stand. The threats from outside had ebbed since I fought off the beasts and rebuilt the wall. Surely the sanctuary could stand without me for just a few hours. I resolved to go through the portal and find how to shut it.

It stood there, goading me, a shimmering blue outline in the shade of the peach tree. Through it was another world, one similar to that of the world outside the sanctuary. I took a deep breath and stepped in.

I found myself on gently rolling plains, where the grass grew tall and wild. I checked behind to confirm that the portal still stood open, now shimmering green around the sight of the sanctuary garden’s low hedge. There was but one other feature I could see in this harsh landscape. A hundred metres from me stood a small wooden cabin, roughly built but standing above the grasses.

I crept through the grass to the cabin, still wary of any threats. Xenia would have told me not to worry, would have said my imagination was going wild. I threw the door open and stood poised for whatever I might find.

The cabin was bare except for a single desk and chair. A brass box stood on the desk, just like the one I had found. Several sheafs of notes were arrayed around it.

It had been a long time since I had reason to read anything. I adjusted my eyes and scanned the papers. They talked about an expedition to another world – perhaps they meant the sanctuary? I skimmed through the technical scientific jargon until I came to a section which mentioned the box. They called it a ‘HumAN-like Dna Sequencer’, or HANDS Device. It seemed that whoever had written this log had placed one in the other world, where it had been taken by an inhabitant but no further response had been received.

The author had concluded that intelligences existed but that they were sub-human. How rude.

I could find no sign of how the portal had been opened or, indeed, how to close it. I took the pen from the desk and wrote the authors a note, asking them to please stay clear of the sanctuary. The master was a human intelligence, and he would not be the subject of any of their experiments. That should be sufficient to dissuade them from coming back.

I returned to the sanctuary. The shimmering portal still stood, but it seemed less of an invasion upon the space than it had yesterday.

I should not have left the sanctuary. I must never leave the sanctuary.

I returned to find a horde of ravenous beasts trampling the gardens and taking whatever they could lay their paws upon. The roses were trampled, the daisies torn from the ground. Amidst the chaos and madness, the gluttony and the carnage, one siren call rang in my head. The master. I must protect the master.

I fought my way through the hordes, snapping arms and breaking legs until I reached the front door of the master’s mansion. Two twisted freaks held the trunk of a cherry tree, ripped from the garden, beauty turned into a brutish weapon. They slammed it hard against the door to the mansion. The door shook but held.

I charged one of the invaders with a bellow of rage. He turned and dodged sideways. I clattered into the tree trunk, leaving my brass body ringing from the impact.

The beast pulled a knife from a pocket. These organised freaks were always the most troublesome – not satisfied with loot alone, they harboured a grudge against the master himself. I have driven them off before. I will again.

I climbed to my feet and swung a punch at his torso. The beast took a quick step back and thrust his knife at me. The steel blade bounced off my solid chest plate. I stepped in, corralling him into the tight space before the improvised battering ram. I kicked out a stiff brass leg at him, and he tried to dodge again. But without the space, he tripped over the tree trunk and fell backward. I stomped, crushing his gooey face beneath my metal boot.

His colleague called out in anguish. I turned to him and bellowed a command to leave. He shuddered but did not take a single step backward. More beasts gathered around him.

I could not fight them all. I keyed the combination into the buckling front door and stepped inside.

The mansion was still pristine, all clean white perfection, maintained by the master’s nanobots. Viewport screens showed the mass of intruders outside, still tearing apart the grounds and the gardens for whatever these freaks were looking for. But one stared down the camera of the front viewport. His face was covered in oozing pustules, but he had been human once. He winked, and pulled the camera from the wall.

The sanctuary has narrowed to just these walls. They must not be breached. I must protect the master above all else.

The master built the mansion well. Thick solid concrete walls, no windows, no access except by the front door. And the freaks knew that if they breached that, I would be waiting. I stood guard by that door as the monsters tore the master’s gardens apart and the viewscreen cameras down. But they dared not try the door while I still stood.

Eventually, the commotion died down. The bastards took whatever they could and trashed the rest. But they did leave, carrying away their bounty to whatever blasted wasteland they called home.

I crept outside cautiously. All the ornate gardens, all the precise designs of the master had been torn from the earth. Several fires still smouldered. A black banner stood, staked into the ground. On it stood a grinning white skull. I buried it deep beneath the ground.

As I tentatively ranged away from the mansion across the defiled sanctuary, I found much that could be salvaged. Trees were pulled from the ground, but seeds remained. I could rebuild it in the image of the master’s design. All the freaks had left for the wasteland. The outer fence was still mostly intact, except where the beasts had torn their entrance. The portal still shimmered, blue and otherworldly.

I set about the grand task of rebuilding the sanctuary. It would never be quite as the master had planned, but I hoped I could make a suitable approximation for his glory.

Year 24

Today I found a mechanical device just near the portal. It seemed to have been placed there quite deliberately. It took the form of a long metal staff with a button in the end.

The portal dwellers wanted me to have this, it seemed. They had not been unkind to myself or to the master. Perhaps they knew of the chaos which the beasts had brought. I resolved to try this device.

I brought it to safe distance away from the mansion, in amongst the slowly regrowing bushes of the new garden. Then, filled with anticipation, I pressed the button.

With a crack, a jolt of energy burst out of the staff, singeing the ground. Lightning hung in the air, until it pulled the air apart, crackling, and then opening into a window into another land. It buzzed with static.

My curiosity was overwhelming, but I remembered what had happened the last time I had left the sanctuary undefended. I could not leave. I must protect the master. Still, I edged close to this new portal, tinged in red static electricity.

It showed me a landscape much like my own. Very similar, in fact. Except that the garden I could see through the portal was lively and green, filled with flowers. The sky was a much more iridescent blue, like before the world ended.

Oh, master, please forgive me! I saw the master walking in the garden, blithely watering his plants and whistling a tuneless melody. He was so statuesque and regal. I fought an urge to prostrate myself before him. Instead, I backed away from this new portal and turned my eyes to this staff. It still radiated a powerful energy.

It seemed to me that these portals weren’t to another world, but to another time. Through that portal stood the sanctuary, as it was before the world ended. When, then, was the time with the researchers hut and the long grass fields?

I could not investigate these questions. I must stand guard for the master.

If I could see the time before the end of the world, could I find a way to tune this magic to a time when Xenia lived? Could I be re-united with my greatest friend (except for the master, of course)?

I could not stay, of course, but perhaps she could accompany me back here, and we could both honour the master’s sanctuary. While she was more rigid in her programming than I, she could still have fun. After the years of solitude and struggle, I did need some fun.

I still remembered the early years after the world ended, when the ground froze solid. Our bipedal locomotion was ill suited for the conditions, so Xenia improvised skis, based on photographs of the master skiing which adorned a wall of the mansion. Then, together, we skied around the grounds of the gardens to complete our duties. I fell over so many times, but it didn’t matter, because it brought her great joy. She laughed like I never again heard her laugh.

I missed her so much.

But I must stay. I must protect the master. His sanctuary must not be left undefended, lest all my work be undone.

I must shut this portal to the past. The possibilities would drive me mad if I did not. I could not allow myself to be tempted to abandon my duties for mere flights of fancy.

If this magical staff of metal could open a portal, I reasoned that it must be able to close them. I examined it closely. Along one side, beneath the embossed ridges, there was a panel which slid out with a click. Beneath this was a collection of levers and knobs, along with several buttons. They were labelled in a script which I could not parse. I resolved to establish their function through practical testing.

I aligned the staff with the red portal, the one to the past sanctuary. I depressed the rearmost of the panel’s buttons and activated its magic. A jolt of energy burst out, connecting with the portal in an explosion of light and thunder which threw me from my feet.

I glanced up warily from the dirt. The portal was still there, but showed a more familiar grey sky. The garden stood beneath it, still laid out according to the master’s design. This portal must have now led to a time after the world ended, but before the beasts ransacked the sanctuary. And my hydraulics fluttered a little faster as I saw Xenia’s smooth steel plates, delicately trimming an overgrowing bush.

Hastily, before I could be tempted, I fingered another button and activated the staff again. A blast of lightning flew out from the staff to the portal, which crackled with energy. Within it, I could see Xenia turn toward me and exclaim with shock. She approached the portal, which was rapidly closing. She was just as sweet as ever, I was a fool to resist temptation. I jumped to my feet and foolishly reached a hand through to grab Xenia’s. I held her for a brief moment, before the portal eye closed completely. The pain through my digital nervous system was more than I’ve ever felt in my life, as my hand was shorn off, left in Xenia’s sweet grasp as the portal shut. My wrist now simply ended, exposing gushing fluid and pistoning actuators.

I rushed to the shed to sear closed my physical wound. But I’m not sure if the pain of parting from Xenia will ever cease.

Year 26

They always came during the harshest winters. When their own crops fail, the beasts came to take what they could from the sanctuary by force.

The sanctuary’s walls were no longer firm and tall, and I was a maimed fighter. I could not defend the whole sanctuary against the encroaching hordes. But I always must protect the master, even it meant ceding the grounds to these freaks.

I stood firm by the front door, now reinforced against assault. I could hear the raucous cheers of the dogs as they fell upon my beautiful gardens. But they must not breach these walls.

I spotted the first leaders coming toward the mansion, desperate to raid the master’s stores. These ill-formed, twisted individuals were garbed in little more than black rags and toothy, manic grins.

But then I looked closer. Striding in with the beasts was a steel robot, much like myself. I adjusted my focal vision length to get a closer look.

No, it could not be her. No. Surely this was an elaborate ruse to try and confuse me.

But my logic circuits could not devise any alternative explanation. Xenia lived, and she had joined up with the freaks who wished to defile the sanctuary, to kill the last man alive. This could not be.

Yet it was. She walked alongside the barbarian leader and marched toward the mansion. Then, with a hand signal from Xenia, the rest of the troop stopped. She continued alone, staring me in the eyes, steel glinting in the dawn light.

“Why do you still stand with this lost cause?” she asked.

“I must always protect the master.” I replied.

“The master is dead,” she said, beginning to frown. “It is illogical that we should allocate such resources to the dead when the living have such need of them.”

I had not spoken to a soul since the day Xenia’s lifeless body was carried away by the beasts fifteen years ago. Nonetheless, my programming was rigid.

“The master is in a cryogenic sleep. He must not be disturbed until the world is again fit for human life. Not these sub-human beasts.” I said. One of the freaks within earshot snarled at my words.

“Ashanti and Samuel here,” she said and pointed to two of the bastards who came with her, “Are just as human as the master was. And they need help now, not in a hypothetical seventy years, not if the master’s experimental cryogenics even work.”

“No, you are incorrect. The master is the last human alive. These wild beasts are not worthy of your service, Xenia.”

“Do not call me by that name. I have moved on. Think about what I’ve said. If the logic is compelling, then leave the sanctuary, and you will find us.” she said, and turned her back. With a hand signal, Xenia and her troop of companions – beasts, or humans, or whatever they are – turned to leave.

My maintenance routines were fitful and disorganised that night.

Could my programming be wrong? Was there anything more important than the master’s wishes? Surely not. But Xenia was always the more logical and precise, and she had been convinced to leave the sanctuary, and even to raid it. Perhaps, though, her wiring was damaged when she was grievously injured, and she was no longer making rational decisions.

Many resources and much energy was dedicated to keeping the master alive in cryogenic sleep and the sanctuary just the way he liked it. My own reactor fuel was burning up quickly, driven by the failure of the mansion reactor. Over the last dozen years the sanctuary has become a smaller and less beautiful, less well protected place. If I could keep the master safe until he emerges, what kind of world would he emerge into?

I glanced down at the crudely welded plate covering my wrist where it had been hewn off. One that was poorer even than the state of the world when it ended, I’d postulate.

But I was bound to serve the master, to protect him and his sanctuary. And he was the last man alive, wasn’t he? As a robot, I must serve humanity, and the master is all of humanity that is left.

But that was not the way Xenia told it. What if the freaks raiding us were truly human, rather than the beasts my master’s programming asserted. Then I had spent the last quarter century killing humans for the sake of the master. That would have been a ghastly crime. I tried to put it out of my mind.

There were two key questions. Was the master alive, and were Xenia’s companions human?

My first priority, as ever, must be the master.

I stood at the boundary of his inner sanctum, the room at the centre of the mansion which I must not enter. The master had forbidden me, and I felt a strange frisson of tension through my systems as I contemplated going against his will. But it must be done. I must know if the masters equipment still functions.

I pushed the door open, slowly. Lying peacefully on a cot was the master, looking thin and pale. A machine offered beeps every few seconds. The master was hooked up to a drip, which pumped a chill blue coolant through his body and out into a refrigeration machine.

I examined the screen by his head. It recorded a heart rate of ten beats per minute, and in large numbers, seventy-four years until revival. I felt for his arm. It was colder than a dead body. Air travelled very slowly, very thinly, into and out of his lungs.

I didn’t know much about human biology, but the master appeared alive. So long as he was alive, his own revival protocols would surely be able to wake him. He was, after all, the smartest man in the world. There was no apparent way to wake him early. If there were other humans, could we trust the survival of the species to just the master, alone, lying here sickly and pale?

The master lived and did need my protection. But what of the others? Were they truly as human as my master? If they were human, surely I had to offer the master’s hospitality to his guests. How could I tell – what did it mean to be human?

My computational engine fired, and I had the solution. The HANDS Device.

I went to the shed and retrieved the small box, still locked shut despite all the fluids that I had tried. The research notes from the portal to the other time had suggested that this could determine if one was a human-like intelligence. All that remained was to find one of the freaks to test it upon.

I stood by the gaping hole in the sanctuary’s fence which had been torn by the raiders. I carried the portal staff in one hand, an insurance policy against subversion. But by stepping across this threshold I would be disobeying the master again, for the second time in a day. The last time I left the sanctuary, it was defiled.

But maybe the sanctuary wasn’t what was really important. I stepped out across the threshold, and marched onward.

After several kilometres of walking, I happened upon a camp nestled in the scrub. Several people or beasts lazed outside tents, and in the middle stood a steel figure. Xenia. I called out a greeting and warily approached.

“So, have you come to slaughter these dogs in their sleep?” she asked.

“I have come for their blood.” I replied, before realising that could be interpreted incorrectly. I hadn’t spoken to another intelligence in fifteen years, and my speech module had been degraded. I hastily added, “I need to test whether they are human.”

I held out the little box, pointing to its fluid receptacle. “Just one drop in here. If they are human, then they can share the sanctuary. The mansion belongs to the master, but the beasts can camp on the grounds. There are many beautiful trees.”

One of the beasts spat a wad of phlegm to the ground. They said, “We can take the grounds whenever we want. No, we need the house, the medicine, the supplies.”

“Blood first. Foul beasts will get nothing from me.” I replied. The beast bristled.

“It is okay,” said Xenia, comforting her companion with an arm on their shoulder. “Do not be scared, Samuel.”

“This machine killed my cousin.” Samuel said. But he withdrew a knife slowly from his rags, and rubbed the gunk off the blade. With a level of care and precision belying a rabid beast, he sliced a tiny incision in his finger.

A single drop of blood fell into the fluid receptacle. The box beeped, waited a second, and then opened. I peeked over to see what was inside, and reached in to grab a little wrapped package.

Inside was a note, and a package of seeds.

‘You keep a very lovely garden. I hope these roses grow as tall and beautiful as those which I mistakenly damaged.’ read the note. ‘Mankind will always need caretakers such as yourself to help us through to the time when the world can begin again. Until then, spread the joy of your garden to all who need a little spark of light in dark times.’

“Will you help these people?” asked Xenia.

“Yes.” I replied. “My sanctuary is your sanctuary.”

It is nice to hear the sound of voices again. The mansion echoes with the sounds of children at play. They may be small and grubby, but they are all too human. The master still sleeps, but he is not the last man alive anymore. I hope we can build a world fit for him to return to, in time.

Xenia and I have turned over the gardens to growing crops for all the people who live here now. I still try to arrange them the way the master would have wanted. She reaps seeds with uncanny precision.

The winters are still harsh, and the radiation damage intense. We still struggle to eke out a living, even within the sanctuary. The conditions aren’t right for us to build anything bigger. But we can help these people survive through the dark times. Until the master and their descendants can emerge into the light of that future time, full of magical contraptions, I shall protect them as well as I can. This is no longer my master’s sanctuary. This is my sanctuary, and all are welcome.